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What is human language, when did it evolve, and why should we care?

Human language stands as a singular marvel among all forms of animal communication. Despite our genetic proximity to Neanderthals, it appears unlikely they possessed language. The so-called sign ‘language’ is seen in the Great Apes. It needs the depth and complexity of human language. Language has evolved much like life. It gives insights into human history and the evolution of related cultures. Some argue that language has dramatically influenced our species’ evolution. This influence has been more important than that of our genes over the past 200,000 years. This discourse enriches our understanding of human evolution. It’s also like a bookmaker online. There, risks and probabilities shape events.

What is unique about human language?

Human language is unique. It is distinct from all other known animal forms of communication. It is compositional. Human language allows speakers to express thoughts in sentences. Sentences have subjects, verbs, and objects. For example, they can say, ‘I kicked the ball’. They can also recognize past, present, and future tenses. Compositionality is the ability to combine words into new sentences. It gives the human language a limitless potential for making new expressions. Speakers unlock an endless array of possibilities by rearranging sets of words into subject, verb, and object roles. For instance, each role has 25 different words. So, it’s already possible to make over 15,000 unique sentences. Human language is referential. Speakers use it to share specific information. They share information about people or objects and their locations or actions.

What is Animal ‘language’ Like?

Animal sounds are like alarms or pre-programmed messages. They can’t mix and match sounds to make new ideas, like human languages can.

Instead, animals cannot talk. They can only do repetitive acts to achieve a specific end. These acts lack formal grammar. They are often explainable by hard-wired behaviors or simple learning [2]. Most ape sign language, for example, is concerned with requests for food. The trained chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky’s most extended recorded ‘utterance’ was in sign language. It was ‘give orange; I give eat an orange, I eat an orange, give me eat an orange, give me you’ [3]. Like those seen in vervet monkeys, alarm calls often evolve by kin selection. They protect one’s relatives or distract predators from the caller. Hunting and social group signals are learned. They help coordinate actions. The speakers need to find out why they act as they do.

When Did Human Language Evolve?

We are still determining exactly when humans started talking, but it was around 150,000 years ago. This is because all humans can speak. These early people already showed signs of using symbols, like drawings.

Some archaeologists think language is younger because Europe got fancy art later. But this doesn’t explain how everyone else already had a language by then!

Could Language be Older Than Our Species?

Neanderthals were close cousins with almost the same genes as us. But even though their brains were big, they didn’t seem to have language. Unlike us, they didn’t have art or advanced tools. This suggests language might be essential to why we thrived while they died out.

What Role Has Language Played in Our Species’ Success?

Animals are stuck in environments where their genes suit them. But humans can learn and share knowledge through language. This lets us build tools and clothes to survive anywhere on Earth, like a super adaptable species!

Language allows humans to make clever cultural adaptations. These have built up throughout our history as a species. Today, due to this capability, we live in a world of technologies that few of us even understand. Culture rides on language. It can change more than genes. Human genes are the same, but our cultures are diverse. This shows that our ‘aural DNA’ has been more important than genes in our short history.

Final Thoughts

Language is a unique ability that separates humans and animals. It is about 150,000 to 200,000 years old. Language helps us communicate complex thoughts, share information, and build cultures. Language has been critical to human success. It has allowed us to adapt to new environments and develop advanced technologies.

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